The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I will start off with an update on Libya. Our colleagues on the ground tell us that hostilities in Tripoli continue to impact health facilities and health personnel. There have been at least four fatalities among health workers since the beginning of this current conflict and 11 ambulances have to date been damaged or destroyed as a result of the hostilities. The armed clashes, random shelling and explosives placed on roads are hampering the ability of humanitarian workers to evacuate civilians and to deliver needed aid, as well as the ability of civilians to move freely to safer areas or to be able to access vital goods and services. We also continue to remind all parties of their obligation under international humanitarian law to take constant care to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical personnel and medical facilities. Since the beginning of the conflict, 102 civilian casualties have been verified, including 23 fatalities and over 45,000 people have now fled their homes due to the clashes, that’s according to the UN migration agency.
Turning to Africa and an update on Cyclone Kenneth, our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that in Mozambique, at least 41 people have been killed and more than 37,700 houses have been either totally destroyed or partially destroyed. Humanitarian partners have supplied shelter material, including tarpaulins, family kits, tents and hygiene as well as water, sanitation to families in need. The World Food Programme (WFP) has provided for over 14,600 people and yesterday, a team including two medics were deployed to Mutemo Island, in Ibo District, with emergency health and water and sanitation, as well as hygiene supplies. And in Comoros, the UN’s humanitarian arm says that 7 people have died and over 200 people were wounded following the storm. Almost 80 per cent of farms and over 60 per cent of crops have reportedly been destroyed, and the cyclone also reportedly destroyed over 3,800 houses and including 400 schools. The United Nations has deployed team members to assist the Government of the Comoros in rapid assessment and response and emergency supplies are in place for the health, education, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene.
In Malawi, we and our partners have reached over 400,000 people who are impacted by Cyclone Idai. The UN has provided immediate life-saving relief support including food, medicine, shelter, protection services, water, sanitation and hygiene supplies. Beyond addressing the immediate needs, the UN is also supporting the Government to assess post-disaster recovery needs that will inform early and long-term recovery efforts. This includes providing support for people who were displaced by the cyclone and wish to return home. More information online.
And in Somalia, 1.7 million people are expected to face crisis [and] emergency levels of food insecurity until June, representing a 10 per cent increase in food insecurity, following a second consecutive failed rainy season that has led to livestock losses and widespread crop failure. Malnutrition rates are rapidly escalating due to the drought conditions and 954,000 children are anticipated to be acutely malnourished, and that’s including 174,600 children who are severely malnourished. The humanitarian country team is preparing a drought response plan to address food gaps in the most severely affected areas and to prepare for substantial increases in needs between May and October. So far, Somalia’s 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, which is seeking $1.08 billion, is only 19 per cent funded. Insufficient funding has led to the scaling back of water, sanitation and hygiene activities despite serious water shortages across the country.
The World Health Organization (WHO) tells us that most Ebola response activities — including community engagement, vaccination and case investigation — have been relaunched in Butembo, in the North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This follows a slowdown caused by the attack that left a Cameroonian doctor — Dr. [Richard] Mouzoko — dead and two people injured. As I mentioned on Monday, the Director-General of WHO visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week. In Butembo, he expressed his gratitude to the WHO and partners and assessed the next steps needed to strengthen both security and the Government-led Ebola response. Only $83 million has been received under the Strategic Response Plan out of a total requirement of $148 million.
And turning to Myanmar, the Acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, Knut Ostby, welcomed the announcement by the Office of the Commander‑in-Chief of the Defence Services of a ceasefire extension in Myanmar from 1 May to 30 June. Mr. Ostby expressed the hope that the ceasefire extension will further strengthen the prospects for Myanmar’s peace process. The UN in Myanmar is prepared to work with the relevant parties on providing urgent humanitarian assistance to all people in need in the affected areas.
The High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Angel Moratinos, visited Colombo in Sri Lanka. Yesterday, he paid his respects to the people and Government of Sri Lanka and expressed the support of the UN’s for the Government’s efforts in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism. This was the first visit by any high-level official to Sri Lanka since the terrorist attack on Easter Sunday. The High Representative conveyed the Secretary-General’s condolences and solidarity to President [Maithripala] Sirisena and he told him: “You are not alone.” He also met with the Prime Minister, [Ranil] Wickramasinghe, with whom he exchanged views on the current efforts undertaken to restore the unity and peaceful coexistence within the society. And he also met with the leader of the opposition.
You will have seen that yesterday, Geir Pedersen, briefed the Security Council in the afternoon on Syria and he told Council Members he is doing everything he can to move forward on rebuilding trust and confidence, opening the door to a political process in Geneva between the Syrian Government and the opposition.
**World Press Freedom
As if you needed to be reminded, Friday is World Press Freedom Day. In a message to mark the day, the Secretary-General says that a free press is essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights. This is especially true during election seasons — the focus of this year’s Day. He says that facts, not falsehoods, should guide people as they choose their representatives. The Secretary-General is deeply troubled by the growing number of attacks and the culture of impunity, noting that United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says almost 100 journalists were killed in 2018, while hundreds were imprisoned. His full message is available in a press release and also on a video on YouTube and also our various UN platforms. And on Friday, UNESCO and the Department of Global Communications will be celebrating World Press Freedom Day with a high-level event and panel discussion that will take place at 10 a.m. in Conference Room 1. The theme assigned for this year is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”. It should be an interesting discussion.
Also, another event I wanted to flag to you, this one, tomorrow, you are all are invited to attend the premiere of a film based on the rediscovered diary of a young Polish Jewish girl, who recounts life in Poland under the occupation of the Nazis. Screening of the film Broken Dreams, directed by Mr. Tomasz Magierski, is followed by discussion with the director and Ms. Ariana Bellak, a Holocaust survivor herself and the sister of the diarist, and that’s from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. It will be the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Alison Smale, who will moderate. The Deputy Permanent Representative of Poland, Mr. Pawel Radomski, will also deliver remarks.
At 3 p.m. today, as you have been told, there will be a press briefing by Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, the Permanent Representative of Indonesia, President of the Security Council for the month of May. And tomorrow at 1 p.m. there will be a press briefing sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Georgia to the United Nations entitled “A Vision for Modernizing the Fight Against Hunger”. Speakers will be Ambassador Imnadze, the Permanent Representative of Georgia to the United Nations, and Dr. Davit Kirvalidze, Georgia's Candidate for Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Ms. Lederer?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. Can you give us an update on any contacts that the Secretary‑General has had regarding Venezuela and the current crisis?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General had a conversation with the Foreign Minister of Venezuela last night, and we've also reached out to people working with the President of the National Assembly. Go ahead. Sorry.
Question: Yes. I wonder if he had any response to the criticism by Venezuela's ambassador of his neutral position, what he called?
Spokesman: We're continuing to be concerned about the reports of people wounded and including one dead as a result of yesterday's events in Caracas. The Secretary‑General and all of us here at the UN are following closely today's demonstrations that are taking place, and the Secretary‑General reiterates his call to all sides to exercise maximum restraint and warn against the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators.
Correspondent: You didn't answer Edie's question.
Spokesman: I answered it to the best of my ability. I think… listen, the… we heard…
Correspondent: [Inaudible] a different answer.
Spokesman: I didn't think you were listening. Yeah. But, thank you for advocating for Edie, yes. Sorry. I don't mean to laugh because it is, indeed, a serious matt… no, we've heard what the… I mean, I heard what the ambassador said yesterday. Our position is what it is. Our concern is with the people of Venezuela, and our concern is to try to help find a political solution out of this current crisis. Yes, ma'am?
Question: You're mentioning a political solution. How do you think the United Nations could be a tool or a medium to be able to get there when we have heard from the opposition that it is not a possibility of dialogue by the [Juan] Guaidó people? The President of Venezuela has said he's willing, according to what Ambassador [Simon] Moncada said yesterday, but the United States, today, during a press interview through their State Department Secretary, Mike Pompeo, said that they're willing to do military action in Venezuela. And just… the interim Secretary of Defence cancelled a trip because they're going to analyse the situation in Venezuela. I'm not saying they're going to act. However, all these items, how it fits into a possible plan to be able to get…
Spokesman: I don't… I'm not privy to anybody else's plans. For the Secretary‑General, for us, there needs to be a political solution. The Secretary‑General's good offices remain available if both sides should choose to accept it. That has been his position since the beginning, and I think that's why he, a few weeks ago… I think explained to you guys directly why we were not directly involved in any of the different groups of friends, while we support, in general, all of these different political initiatives, that he wants to remain available to both sides. And that continues to be his position. Let's go to India‑Pakistan, as I expect the question to be. Thank you, Yoshita. Sorry. Go ahead.
Question: Yes. The UN Security Council designated Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. His Jaish‑e‑Mohammad were responsible for the Pulwama bomb terror attacks. It's been 10 years in the making, this designation. What is the response of the Secretary‑General on this? It's been perceived as a big victory in the fight against terrorism.
Spokesman: Sure. I mean, it's not for the Secretary‑General to respond. This is the work of a well‑established mechanism through the sanctions committee of the Security Council. It is a big part of the United Nations' work in the fight against terrorism, and I think a matter of principle, we… first of all, it's always good when all Member States of the Security Council agree on something. And we would, of course, hope that all Member States abide by those decisions. Erol?
Correspondent: Thank you, Steph. Since all of us, obviously, are very much interested to see your real position on the Venezuela… I mean the Secretary‑General. Let me try this way. On Libya…
Spokesman: I have delivered the real position, but you can… you're will… I'm always willing to have a… put a little mustard on this pitch.
Question: Okay. It's a pitch, indeed. All right. On Libya, you were criticized, as well, that you took the side of the Government in… I mean the Government in Tripoli while other countries change, in the meantime, supporting General [Khalifa] Haftar. Now, how come that you really have to balance that much and you cannot recognize more, but with the words of wisdom, even the position of the opposition in Venezuela, and give some advice at least or so?
Spokesman: Sounds like a great question for a panel discussion. But, I'm not going to engage in the compare‑and‑contrast. I think the situation in Tripoli and Caracas are completely different. And again, I have no… I'm not sure how to answer your question with any words that I haven't yet used. Linda?
Correspondent: Going back to your favourite subject…
Spokesman: I have so many.
Question: Well, the dominant subject today. Anyway, regarding Venezuela, you mentioned that the SG had a conversation with the Foreign Minister and that he was… or the office was reaching out to some people working with the National Assembly. So, my question is, what are the… how is he reaching out? How's the Secretary‑General's Office reaching out to members of the National Assembly? Does that include Mr. Guaidó? And have… has the National Assembly… or have National Assembly representatives been in contact with the SG in any frequent manner?
Spokesman: No, not directly with the Secretary‑General since Mr. Guaidó wrote to the Secretary‑General and the Secretary‑General wrote back to him. Other contacts are being had at different levels, either at Headquarters or in the country office. But, there is no… there's nothing more for me to report on the outcome of these contacts. Maggie?
Question: Steph, the Taliban Spokesman said that the Taliban met with… or the delegation met with Mr. [Tadimichi] Yamamoto, the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] of UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan], in Doha. Do you have any sort of readout? Because the Taliban guy is saying that he welcomed… Mr. Yamamoto welcomed the cut in civilian casualties… the decrease in civilian casualties, but last year's numbers were the highest. So, I don't… I'm not quite sure what this year's numbers are.
Spokesman: Let me see if I can get something from our colleagues there. Ibtisam?
Question: I have first a follow‑up on Venezuela. So, just to clarify, are you still standing by your comments yesterday?
Spokesman: I'm not… yeah, I haven't… I'm not going back and changing the record.
Question: No, but you still…?
Spokesman: No, I… yeah. Take that answer as you will.
Question: Okay. So, my other question is, Omar Shakir is an Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, and Israeli authorities, they want to deport him. Any comments on that?
Spokesman: Let me take a look at this case, and I'll try to give you some language. Betul?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Does the UN know how many foreign fighters are being held by SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] in Syria? And what is the SG's position?
Spokesman: I don't have the number off the top of my head. It doesn't mean that someone else in this building doesn't have those numbers on the top of their heads. There are… there is a Security Council resolution that deals with the issue of foreign fighters, which we would hope Member States follow through on. There are also… obviously, the issue of foreign fighters needs to be dealt with within a human rights context, of people's rights being respected, and also, of course, within the context of accountability for the crimes that may have been committed. Carla and then Zach.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Has the Secretary‑General made any comment about Jeffrey Sachs' brilliant report on economic sanctions as collective punishment against the Venezuelan people? And if not, why not? And again, what is the UN's position on one Government attempting to change another Government by starving out its people?
Spokesman: I'm not aware… in fact, I would be aware if he had made a comment on this report. He has not. On his position on the use of sanctions, I would refer you to remarks he delivered in the Security Council in the second half of last year, which, I think, clearly outlines his position. Zach?
Question: Just looking for any comment you may have or… because I've been waiting for this for about a month now, any comment that the Secretary‑General has on the case of the Moustafa Kassem, the New York resident and Egyptian national who was convicted in 2013 and also sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2018. One of the issues is, of course, his health. Apparently, it's really deteriorating because he's on a hunger strike.
Spokesman: In detention in?
Correspondent: In Cairo.
Spokesman: In Cairo. I don't have anything here, but I will get you something. Mario?
Question: Do you have any comment on the situation of Mr. Leopoldo López, the opposition leader in Venezuela, that was freed from home arrest yesterday and is now at the Spanish…?
Spokesman: Yes, I understood he was freed. I saw the press reports that, I think, he had sought asylum, I think, in one or another embassy. I think it's important that people be free to go about peaceful… peacefully demonstrating and that nothing be done to make the political process more complicated. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Months ago, the… Federica Mogherini spoke about the possibility of working with the Secretary‑General in a humanitarian assistance for Venezuela. Do you have any information about the progress and the possibility of advancing and a plan to try to have that humanitarian assistance?
Spokesman: I mean, all I know is the upscaling that we've done, WHO through PAHO [Pan American Health Organization] and UNICEF, but I will look into the EU issue. Erol?
Question: Thanks, Steph. Since you mentioned, and you offered on behalf of the Secretary‑General strong words, the words on the human rights and press… freedom of the press, is the Secretary‑General going to do anything more that he has done already on the case of Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi, late Khashoggi? Because none of the culprits so far is not punished.
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General expressed very clearly his desire for this… for the death of Mr. Khashoggi to be fully investigated and those responsible to be brought to account, and that position has not changed. See you Thursday, tomorrow. You may now leave. The mass is over.